Where do I go next? The BA’s dilemma
Most Business Analysts I know love being BAs. Chuck us at a gnarly, black-hole of a problem and we’re like pigs in mud.
But while we love what we do, the Business Analyst career-path seems to have a bit of a ceiling. The BCS BA career pathway for example ends at Lead Business Analyst.
You can become more expert and senior at what you do, maybe head up a team of BAs, but there isn’t a clear path forward if you want to take your career to the next level. There’s no such a thing as a ‘Chief BA Officer’ (unfortunately).
Despite it being a well-known challenge, many of us are finding that working out where to go next is a pretty tricky question to find answers to.
To help shed some light into this knowledge black-hole, my fellow Principal BA Amanda Gordon and I decided to ask some experts.
We brought together three ex-BAs at a panel event to talk about their careers, the decisions that led them to where they are now, and the tangible things they did to make those decisions. We came away with so many great insights, we thought we’d share them with our BA friends far and wide. Credit and many thanks to our panelists Rachel Cartmail, Claire Parker and Adrian Rice for the following paraphrased words of wisdom.
What are my options?
Figuring out what kind of role you want to move to might involve some personal reflection as well as some good ol’ research.
Take note of the things that make you happy, and conversely the things you’re not so keen on. This can help you narrow down the kinds of roles you might want to strive for or avoid.
Online research can get you a fair way. Check out career websites or s̶t̶a̶l̶k̶ research people you know or admire (and their connections) on Linkedin, to see what kinds of paths they’ve taken. Talk to your networks — they may know of options or others who would know — and even recruitment consultants can give you a sense of the kinds of roles they see senior BAs moving into.
One of the key things is to be able to put a job title to the role you’re eager to move to. This will help you further research and understand it, and take the next steps to get there. To kick-start your investigations with some real-life examples, our panelists have moved into roles such as Head of Business Change, Chief Enterprise Architect and Product Manager.
How do I get there?
So you found a role you like the look of. How on earth do you convince an interviewer (and indeed yourself) that you can do it?
From our discussions, it became clear that there’s no perfect way to do this. But we did chat about a number of things you can explore, depending on your situation.
The top tip was to utilise your current organisation if you can. Look for opportunities for secondments or shadowing, or colleagues who are doing the role that might be good mentors. Speak to your manager about your growth aspirations and see what they can unlock to support you. There might be a related side project you could take on to try things out or demonstrate your capabilities, for example. Surround yourself with good, encouraging people, too — people are usually very happy to help if you ask.
Outside of work, you may want to explore additional training or qualifications. These could be formal, or indeed MOOCs such as Coursera, FutureLearn, EdX and Udacity can be fantastic resources to learn more about a new discipline or skill. Even more informally, YouTube can reveal some gems here too. Even something as simple as learning the terminology and concepts used in your new space is incredibly useful.
You might want to spin up or take on a pet project in your spare time that’s related to the role you’re aiming for. A particularly charitable way of doing this could be to find a volunteering opportunity or CSR project that steps into that space or uses / develops those skills.
What skills can I leverage?
The good news is that you won’t be starting from scratch. We BAs have loads of transferable skills that can be applied in a wide range of applications.
Things like influencing people, facilitation and organisation, breaking down problems and ambiguity, approaching challenges with empathy and on-point questioning skills have been useful throughout our panelists’ careers, no matter the role.
Further up the career ladder, being able to articulate vision, think divergently and convergently, and being comfortable in complicated situations and problems become even more sought-after skills.
As BAs we help to solve problems, and our panelists experienced a broadening of their problem solving as they moved into more senior roles — think moving from project challenges to more strategic ones. So all those techniques you apply now can be reused and refined as the lens via which you’re looking at a problem grows.
If I had my time again…
Having been through this process themselves, our panelists shared their learnings on what they would have done differently. And here’s the pick of their advice.
- Believe in yourself and worry less. Recognise that the discomfort of new things is only temporary.
- Don’t wait to make the move. Many of our panelists would have taken action sooner.
- Speaking of action, make the change by doing. Any new things you do will help give you insight into whether it’s the right move for you. And if it’s not, you’ll have learnt something along the way.